In 2019, I read. A lot. I know I did because I kept a spreadsheet.
And on December 31, 2019, I made this humblebrag on Facebook:
It took 362 days, untold hours, and a whole lot of dedication, but I did it—I achieved my 2019 New Year's resolution and read 52 books in 52 weeks. That's 16,086 pages of reading for pleasure—mainly novels, memoirs, and short stories, with a few biographies, nonfiction narratives, and self-help books thrown in for good measure. I started this quest just to prove to myself (and my kids) that I could do it. And I'm so glad that I followed through with it. I read some old classics and some new works. I read gritty books and lyrical books. I read epic sagas and stories of small triumphs and heartbreak. If there is some sort of epiphany I came upon in this process, I'd say it's this: It's good to see things in new and different ways. We all have our own lenses and life experiences, but ultimately, we're all contending with the same age-old existential questions. Sometimes you just need to get out of your own head and live in someone else's world (so to speak) for a little while. Not because it validates you, but because it enriches you. I also was reminded that life is big and complex and messy and amazing. And what a joy it is to be here on this earth.
Boy oh boy, did 2019 me think she was pretty smart.
I still believe that reading is an absolutely essential human endeavor, don’t get me wrong. In fact, I’ve made a pretty good career of doing jobs whose primary requirements are reading and writing.
But reading “for pleasure” at this moment in time? Can’t imagine it.
How am I supposed to find the headspace when there are so many dishes to wash? When work days are boundaryless?
Trust me, the Giant Eagle virtual shopping cart is not going to fill itself. No. I can’t read right now.
There’s literally a crow outside my bedroom window cawing at my cat as I type this. If I were ensconced in some intense period drama, how could I record the hullabaloo for the family group chat?
The paradox of having a seemingly endless supply of time to start some new hobby or project or mind-expanding exercise is that the sheer enormity of possibilities is paralyzing.
It’s like the Cheesecake Factory menu. How on earth are you supposed to select just one entrée when there are 7,800 to choose from?
What if you picked Evelyn’s Favorite Pasta when you really wanted Baja Chicken Tacos?
And if you had gone with a Skinnylicious Factory Chopped Salad, maybe you would have actually saved some room for cheesecake. Not sure which one of the 12 billion varieties available would fit the bill, but at least you’d have the option.
Social media is quick to point out that William Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” during plague quarantine.
Way to go, Bill.
But did he order a microwave on the Best Buy app when his fizzled out while reheating refried beans for his daughter’s afternoon nachos, then drive out to Great Northern Mall for curbside pickup and have the replacement appliance in the trunk within the hour?
Didn’t think so.
Lear’s cool and all, but my kid really wanted those nachos. She couldn’t care less about a kingdom.
This quarantine is simultaneously clarifying and stress-inducing. We all know that we should simplify and finally focus our energies toward tackling some of those non-travel- or any-kind-of-adventure-related items on our bucket lists, but where to start?
And if we check those things off the list now, does that mean we have to set new goals? Or worse yet, does it mean that we no longer have those things to strive toward?
I’m glad that I established an expectation for myself last year to reach a specific threshold for accomplishing something that was important to me at the time. It was a good exercise. I learned a lot and I proved I could do it.
But that doesn’t mean that I need to keep raising the bar for myself. Neither do you.
Getting up and putting on a fresh pair of pants (if you’re still wearing those) is a not-insignificant accomplishment in the age of Coronavirus.
In fact, just getting out of bed is a win.
I did pick up some new reading material the other day. It’s the cookbook that came with my new microwave. Turns out you can make a cheesecake in there in five minutes flat.
There are unlimited ways to jazz up the recipe and make it your own.
But I’m okay with having it plain.